Monday 1 February 2010

Film review: 'Up in the Air'

I have mixed feelings towards Jason Reitman's films. I liked Thank You for Smoking, sort of: it had too slim a narrative and was unsure as to its target, deciding instead to satirise everything in sight, but the gags worked, and Aaron Eckhart was born to play that role. I also liked Juno, although I enjoyed it for the performances (especially Jennifer Garner's) rather than Diablo Cody's terribly irritating 'hip' dialogue. With Up in the Air, we have the first Jason Reitman film I unequivocally detest.

Let's start with the direction and the music. Both are not bad, per se: they're just undistinguished and clichéd. Reitman films exactly the scenes you expect, in exactly the way you've seen them done a thousand times, with precisely the music you'd expect. The director, then, just doesn't add anything to the film. It's the cinematography, however, that I really want to talk about. If, like me, you spend rather more time at airports than is conducive to anyone's sanity, you'll know that they're dirty, soulless places, harshly lit and populated by frustrated, tired people. (Travellers going through Heathrow face higher stress levels than riot police, after all.) Eric Steelberg, however, opts to film Up in the Air to look exactly like those blandly glossy airport lounge brochures: squeaky clean, with a colour palette consisting mostly of metallic blues and greys. He makes the film's world look jolly glamorous, in other words.

This is a problem because the film is supposedly about George Clooney's deep-seated unhappiness, hidden beneath a fa
çade of suave, well, Clooneyness. It just doesn't work, though. Clooney's Ryan Bingham, whose job is to fire people, is living a cliché beloved by advertising: immaculately dressed and groomed, treated deferentially wherever he goes, sipping expensive drinks in hotel bars. It all looks rather attractive - but the film's uncontroversial moral message, without giving too much away, is that human relationships are better than Ryan's commitment-free nomadic existence. Up in the Air thus undermines itself right from the start by adoring the high-flying corporate world it claims to deconstruct.

Up in the Air's satire is ultimately poorly aimed. It eulogises our business class, while on the receiving end, unfortunately, are the people Ryan fires: Reitman evidently thinks making fun of the newly unemployed is hilarious. I can't really agree, sir. Making oscar-baiting dramedies at the expense of the victims of the current financial crisis is not just not funny, but also irresponsible and indicative of the oblivious spirit so typical of Hollywood. Up in the Air thinks itself clever, nuanced and meaningful: in fact it is foolish, shallow and trite.

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